The author worked aboard the Calypso, the first foreigner to do so, and it is evident in Undersea Explorer that Dugan holds Cousteau in high regard, both professionally and personally. Cousteau appears to the reader as a man of dedication and conviction. The portrait of his childhood shows the early independence and spirit of adventure that characterizes Cousteau’s life throughout the book. He overcomes adversity and physical injury to become the foremost undersea explorer in history. Few glimpses emerge, however, of Cousteau’s family life. One learns that he married and had two sons, but there is little personal detail. Instead, major events of the subject’s life are interwoven with personal stories to provide an accurate portrait of Cousteau.
The time line of this account of Cousteau’s life follows his first forty-five years, from a brief description of what appears to be a precocious childhood through his coming-of-age as a young French naval officer and finally to his life as captain of the Calypso. The concentration is clearly on those factors that have shaped Cousteau’s life as a diver and explorer. Consequently, there are gaps in the story, with long periods of Cousteau’s life with little or no narrative, but this does not detract materially from the book. Much of Cousteau’s personal life remains undiscussed in this record. What the reader does obtain is an easy-to-follow account of the professional life of an extraordinary modern-day pioneer.
Much of the sea is a mystery to scientists, even today. The story of that which Jacques-Yves Cousteau has done and the windows that he has opened to the undersea world should prove to be motivational and inspirational to many young people, some of whom may aspire to follow Cousteau into the sea, either on a recreational basis or as professional divers. The text and illustrations provide the basis for developing an understanding of the environment in which divers operate and the processes of diving. Many of the “hows” and “whys” of diving are explained in a clear, understandable fashion. The relationship between humans and the animals of the oceans is also explored, and the reader is provided glimpses of a number of species of marine organisms.